by / until

When talking about a date in the future… Use by if a single event will happen before that point: I will send you the information by Friday. (= before Friday) Use until if a continuous event will continue and then stop at that point: ur guests will arrive by 6:00. (= before 6:00) I’ll be…

baggage / luggage

These words are the same. Both of them refer to the collection of suitcases/bags you take with you while traveling. Both of them are uncountable nouns, so don’t use “a” or make them plural: I have three luggages. I have three pieces of luggage. I accidentally left a baggage at the hotel. I accidentally left…

review / revise

If you review a document, it means you read it and examine it (and maybe have some ideas to improve it) – but you don’t make any changes. If you revise a document, it means you change the text to correct errors or make improvements. When preparing for a test, it’s a good idea to…

ill / sick

Sick is the less formal word, and it usually describes a more temporary health problem – often nausea, although not always. If you’re feeling sick, you might need to vomit. If you get the flu, you might be sick for two weeks. If a child is sick, he stays home from school that day. Taking…

in / on / at

TIME PLACE IN Months Cities and countries In January In Tokyo In October In Japan Seasons Rooms and buildings In the summer In the kitchen In the spring In the Years supermarket In 2004 Closed spaces In 1986 In the car Periods of the day In a park In the morning In the evening (exception:…

confident / confidant / confidence

The adjective confident describes when you feel certain – especially of a good outcome, like success. It can also describe a person who feels good about himself/herself. I’m confident that all the problems will be resolved soon. The company is confident of a successful winter season. I’m attracted to women who are strong and confident….

gut / guts

The word gut refers to a part of the body, but it has some metaphorical meanings, too. Your “gut” is your stomach. Some men have a “beer gut” (a big stomach from drinking too much beer!) and some people talk about wanting to do exercise to “lose their gut” (make their stomach smaller). We also…

kinds / types / sorts

When talking about different varieties of things, kinds, types, and sorts are essentially the same: I like many different types of music. All sorts of people come to this club – students, professionals, artists. This restaurant has fifty different kinds of sushi. When asking questions, we usually use the singular form: What type of music…

custom / habit

The word habit is typically used for personal actions – things that you do frequently and repeatedly without even thinking about them: I have the habit of falling asleep in front of the TV. My brother has the bad habit of biting his nails. Diana is trying to develop healthy eating habits. I don’t trust…

agenda / itinerary / schedule

An agenda is a list or program of things to be done. Workers who are well-organized will often have an agenda for meetings – a list of specific topics to discuss, or things to accomplish during the meeting. If something is “on the agenda” or “on your agenda,” it means that people are willing to…

intend / tend

If you intend to do something, it means you plan to do it. You have the desire or idea to do it in your mind, but the action has not been performed yet. For example: I intend to go to grad school next year. The Olympic athlete intends to become a coach after retiring from…

Mr. / Mrs. / Ms. / Miss

These titles indicate a person’s gender and marital status: Mr. (pronounced “mister”) = a man. Can be married or unmarried. Mrs. (pronounced “missus”) = a married woman Miss (pronounced “miss”) = an unmarried woman Ms. (pronounced “mizz”) = a woman who we are not sure if she is married or not. These titles are typically…

hijack / kidnap

You hijack a vehicle – such as a car, train, or airplane – taking control of it by using force. You kidnap a person – take and hold the person against their will, often demanding money to release them.

beg / plead

Both of these words mean to ask strongly, with a lot of deep emotion: When John’s wife wanted to leave him, he begged her to stay. When John’s wife wanted to leave him, he pleaded with her to stay. The student begged for more time to complete the assignment, and the teacher gave her two…

beautiful / pretty

These words describe something that is attractive, nice to look at. The word beautiful is stronger and more complete. You could describe a spectacular sunset as beautiful, or a very attractive woman in a fancy dress as beautiful. The word pretty is more informal and superficial. A nice arrangement of flowers could be described as…

little / small

Small is only used for physical size (a big apartment / a small apartment). Little can be used for: Size (The cake is decorated with little flowers.) Amount (Can I have a little milk for my coffee?) Degree (I’m a little nervous.) Size with an emotional expression. This emotional expression can be: Adoration: Look at…

its / it’s

It’s is an abbreviation for it is, and its is a possessive: – It’s raining. – The dog ate its food. or the food belongs to the dog. There is no pronunciation difference, but confusing. it’s and its is a very common mistake in written English!

belong to / belong with / belong in

Belong to means ownership or possession: That’s my bike. = That bike belongs to me. This is Kate’s jacket. = This jacket belongs to Kate. That’s our neighbors’ dog. = That dog belongs to our neighbors. Belong with means that things/people are similar and should be together. If one person in a romantic relationship says…

apartment / flat / studio

American English speakers say apartment, and British English speakers say flat. A studio is a specific type of apartment or flat – it is just one room, with no walls or divisions between the bed area, the kitchen area, and the area with a couch or TV. Larger apartments with multiple rooms are called a…

pass away / pass out

You definitely don’t want to get these two phrasal verbs confused! Pass away is an indirect way to say someone died: My grandfather passed away yesterday. The funeral is this weekend. Rachel passed away after a long battle with cancer. Pass out has two meanings: 1. To lose consciousness He was so exhausted and dehydrated…

imply / infer

To imply something means to suggest it in an indirect way, without saying it directly. Larry’s remarks implied that he’d be leaving the company soon. The evidence seems to imply that the suspect is innocent of the crime. To infer something is to form a conclusion from the information available (especially if the information available…

effective / efficient

If something is effective, it means it achieves the desired effect/result: This vaccine is quite effective against the disease. or ( the vaccine has the desired result of preventing the disease) The new law was ineffective in reducing crime. or ( the law did not achieve the desired result of reducing crime) As you can…

broad / wide

Both of these words describe something that is large from side to side: A wide/broad river When measuring things, we usually use wide: The river is 100 feet wide. There was a six-inch-wide hole in the wall. We also have these expressions with broad: broad shoulders (when a person’s shoulders are far apart from each…

explore / exploit

To explore (verb) is to investigate or travel to a new area in order to discover things. Exploration is neutral: The satellite will explore the area outside our solar system. We are exploring the possibility of a business partnership. To exploit (verb) is to take advantage of something, usually in a selfish or unethical way….

adverse / averse

The word adverse refers to something that is opposing – it goes against what you want, and is often unfavorable, harmful or challenging. Heavy rain, high winds, or icy roads are adverse weather conditions (because they interfere with the operation of normal life and transportation). If a medicine makes the patient’s health get worse, not…

good evening / good night

Evening is the time when the sky starts to get dark – usually around 6-8 PM. Night is the time when it is dark and people are generally sleeping. Say “Good evening” to say “hello” after 6:00 PM. “Good evening” is commonly used at restaurants, in a professional context, and in speeches (when you speak…

sensible / sensitive

Sensible means having a good practical awareness or understanding of a situation: This is a very sensible article – it’s a realistic description of both points of view in the debate. I’m more of a dreamer, and my husband is the sensible one. I come up with crazy ideas and he tells me if they’ll…

also / as well / too

These words are all used to show similarity or sameness: Jeff plays soccer. Greg plays soccer, too. Jeff plays soccer. Greg also plays soccer. Jeff plays soccer. Greg plays soccer as well. The only difference is in their placement in the sentence. Too and as well are used at the end of a sentence. (As…

I = subject

Jim = object The teacher called Sarah and me. The teacher = subject Sarah = object me = object My and mine show possession. Use my before the word, and use mine after the word: Paul is my friend. Paul is a friend of mine. Those are my glasses. Those glasses are mine. The word…

ex- / former / previous

Previous means “immediately before,” and former means “at any time in the past.” Your former employer means any employer you have had in your past, at any time. Your previous employer typically means the most recent employer you had in your past. A former president is any of the many people who have held the…